A Homily for Palm Sunday
April 5, 2020
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Matthew 26:36-46
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
A little over a year ago 24 other pastors and I sat in the garden of Gethsemane. It lies just outside the old walls of Jerusalem. There is a tree that was 2000 years old in one part of the garden, which means this scraggly, ancient tree saw Christ crying out as we read of him today. Behind the garden walls there is a quiet oasis, only open on occasion, but a great gift that I was given, is I got to sit there and pray.
For me, despite the hustle and bustle of the city so close, the traffic driving by, there was stillness and a welcoming place of prayer, where Christ went and cried out, and where millions of pilgrims offered their prayers. As I sat there, I could imagine why Christ, and his disciples would go there, for it was a good place of comfort, it was a good place to escape to pray, and to rest after a busy day, to talk to the father and know that he had heard their voices.
Jerusalem sits on a hill nestled between some steep mountains, a strategic place to build your city, in the ferocity of the ancient Near East world. The temple sat upon the highest place, the place where Abraham offered Isaac. Today, the Dome of the Rock is where the temple once was, and its golden roof draw’s ones attention almost immediately as you enter the city. It is hard not to imagine two thousand years ago the temple doing the same for all who were entering the Holy City after their long pilgrim’s journey.
But just a little ways away is the quiet oasis of Gethsemane.
As I read through todays gospel lesson, I thought of this quiet place again, I thought of the amazing opportunity I had to pray where our savior prayed, I thought of the peace I felt during that time, and I thought of the time in which we find ourselves living.
Christ offers for us a model of how we shall live in the shadow of darkness – pray – throw ourselves into the will of the Father and trust in Him.
The last few weeks, I found myself running around, doing everything I could to not stop, to keep control of a situation I had no control over. I could make it sound holy and good, and I think my intentions were good – but I fled stillness at the feet of the Father, I fled admitting all I was feeling to our savior.
Finally, on Friday, I had a moment to pause and everything shook, all my fears, my disappointments, and questions boiled to the surface. It was the first moment that I allowed myself to take stock of my own situation, allowed myself to see my place in the world.
For the next 24 hours a deep sorrow swept over me, until I found a little grain of sand that pushed me over the edge, a little annoyance that normally would have caused me to grumble, but instead it pushed me out of myself and into the arms of God, and I fell down before God. It was finally there that I found peace, it was finally in that crying out that I found the comfort that I needed.
I am telling you this story – not in hopes of sympathy, not so that you feel bad for me, but so that you know that you are not alone, so that you know that whatever you’re feeling or experiencing right now – God is there wanting to comfort you. I am telling you this – in hopes that you too would throw yourselves into the arms of our Father.
I have spent hours talking with people the past few weeks and hearing what they are going through – and there is a wide range of emotions – sorrow, lament, heartache, disappointment, frustration, anger, fear,
you name the emotion and there is a good chance that someone is experiencing it. There is much that we can do for our friends who are struggling as Christians – but first we must be reminded that we are allowed and even called to lament, first we are called to cling more tightly to God in this season, that the devil does not get a foothold in our hearts.
On Sunday mornings and throughout the daily rhythms of church life – we are given an incredible hope. We are given a moment to rest in Christ, and I hope and pray that these times are restful. I realize they are not perfect – but the call isn’t to perfection – the call is to resting in Christ.
Another pastor shared the following suggestion with several of us the other day. Don’t invite friends to come to church online – invite them to join in a time where you have found hope, a time where you’ve found peace amidst so much chaos. I hope and pray that our times together online have provided this for you and I hope and pray that if you have a friend who is struggling – that they would feel welcomed to join us as well. Don’t invite your friends to church – invite them into the hope that you have – invite them to pray, to rest in the beauty of the liturgy God has given us.
Amidst so much chaos and confusion – it has never been easier to invite people to “church,” to our time of worship, to our time of grounding ourselves in the hope we have in Christ.
Today, nearly in the middle of our long gospel lesson – Christ models for us a crying out to God the Father – that we can join in with him.
First – the supper being over, he and his disciples head out to the garden.
Our time with Christ will not simply happen – we must set time aside for it. We must make it part of our daily routine. Set aside ten minutes in the morning and ten in the evening to read God’s word, and pray – set aside twenty minutes, or thirty minutes. Tune in and pray the daily office with us. Turn off your phone, turn off the TV, sit outside, it is nearly warm enough. Forsake the distractions that are there to hound you. Find your garden place, whether it be a different room, your patio or your deck, a walk in the woods, a rock to sit upon – and then in the quietude offer your prayers to God.
Next, we notice while all his disciples went to Gethsemane with him – only his closest three disciples were invited into his “inner chamber,” if you will. We do not invite all our friends into our turmoil, but it is good to bring our close friends along with us in our sorrow, it is good to share these heartaches with our spouses, our best friends, those who know us most intimately, but we must take note what will happen after Christ prays.
He comes back to notice that his friends have fallen asleep. My friends, do not place your trust and your hope in another person. People will inevitably fail us. It is easy to hope in people – they are tangible and they are physically there – but our call is to hope in Christ, our call is to trust in God the Father, our call is to know that God will see us through to the end, our call is to place our trust not in man, but in God alone.
But now, we also see that Christ became troubled – for he knew the tribulation that he was about to pass through. St. Matthew tells us that he became sorrowful and troubled – and then Christ himself says “my soul is very sorrowful, even unto death.” Lest we forget – we have a savior who can empathize with everything that we are feeling, we have a savior who went through the deepest torments, he can handle our pain, our fear, our sorrows of today.
His prayer is then simple, often times we think perhaps God will hear me more clearly, but let us remember what Christ says about prayer:
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”
In other words – come to God, come to the Father with no other agenda than to come before Him, and say what is on your mind.
We often want to say these eloquent proses when we come to the Father – but instead he simply wants us to bear Him our heart, He simply wants us to give him our heart – it is all we can give him and it is all He asks for.
There is a great, though simple cartoon, it is of a little stick figure boy – he holds a broken heart up towards heaven and says “It ain’t much, but it’s all I got.” A voice from heaven responds “it’s all I ever wanted.”
The demands of giving God our hearts are high – and yet they are so simple. We need not lay excessive requirements upon ourselves – we need not babble on when simple words will do. The Father already knows what we have, so when we pray – speak our mind, and then be quiet. Sit in the stillness.
And this is Christ’s prayer “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
First – let us understand what this models for us – we see how simple Christ’s prayer is – he does not beg or plead, or go on and on that he does not have to go through the crucifixion, and through death – but he does tell the Father – this is scary – he simply says what is on his mind. We do not know how long he sat before the Father, but we know it was long enough for his friends to fall asleep.
But he doesn’t say: “I’ll go to synagogue more, if I don’t have to drink of this cup,” or “I’ll do this great thing, if you let me have what I want,” but “not as I will, but as you will,” in other words, he expresses his fears, his sorrow, his anxiety – but commits himself to the will of the Father.
How would our lives look if we commit ourselves to the will of the Father? How would our lives be changed if we daily made that prayer our own, with sincerity? “Today Father, not as I will – but as you will.”
Even in our sorrow and heart ache and fear – God invites us to live our his will. God invites us to trust in Him.
Now - we must understand what this cup is – throughout scripture – the Old Testament and the New – we see a reference to this cup and it is the cup of God’s wrath. There are many things that happened at the Cross – but the central point is this – that on the cross Christ drank the cup of God’s wrath. Christ, the second person of the trinity, God incarnate takes His own righteous anger towards our sin – He takes God’s righteous anger towards those who love sin and bears it all.
We cannot find peace for our hearts or minds until they rest in Christ – for in Christ we find the balm for our sin, we find the balm that comforts us, for outside of Christ is God’s hatred of sin.
We often find ourselves uncomfortable when we talk of God’s wrath – or some have overcorrected and celebrate it. But this is how I have found it helpful to think about it:
God is Holy, Good, Loving, within those things – evil cannot reside – sin is evil, wicked, and separating. Sin, cannot reside with something that is Holy, Good, and truly Loving. It is out of God’s love that wrath flows, it is out of love for His creation, it is our of His zeal for Holiness, and even a love for people that a desire to destroy sin flows.
The wrath of God is not an out of control anger that we often imagine when we imagine wrath – but it is His justice, it is His desire to make right all that has fallen apart, all that cannot reside with Him. And so it is Christ who takes this wrath – it is the incarnate God that makes it possible for humanity to reside with God again.
My friends, sometimes we make God to small, and other times we make him impossible to reach – but here is the good news – that God, the creator of the heavens and the earth, God who is bigger than anything we can imagine, God who is more powerful than anything we can dream up, became incarnate – that he would bind us to Himself. It is in resting in Christ that we can have communion with the Holy Trinity. It is in Chris that we are brought before the Father – not in our virtue but in Christ’s innocence and righteousness.
Christ drank even the dregs of what we deserved upon the cross– Christ on the cross opened the door that we could come into the Holies of Holies – I can imagine nothing better – I can think of no greater thing – I can think of nothing that should bring us more joy and peace even in the storms of life.
So now, just as Christ cries out “my soul is very sorrowful” we too can cry out – “my soul is troubled,” “my heartaches,” “I am lonely,” “I am scared,”…. “I am angry”… “Lord, hear my prayer!” And beloved ones: He hears us because of what happened on the cross 2000 years ago!
Let us pause and think for a moment of what a comfort this is.
We have thought about Christ’s disappointment that his friends could not watch with him but for even an hour – but let us think for a moment about this lament “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
I suspect many of us are willing to do whatever our savior calls us to – whether it be hard, or easy, whether it seem noble or humble, whether it requires our death, or to live until our hair is gray and our bone are weary.
But so often it can seem dreadfully difficult. Often, I find it easier to simply do – power through, until my flesh gives out and exhaustion takes over – don’t do this. No – Christ tells us here – it is not by the power of our own will, but by the Holy Spirit that we are able to do all things to the glory of God.
The journey ahead may be challenging – but it is by the spirit that we persevere. Give all things to God in prayer and trust that he is with us to the end.
Now – Christ prays the same prayer three times – it is interesting, sometimes we see God’s people pray over and over and over and over again for the same thing – Christ mentions this as the widow who petitions the wicked judge until he gives in, and we may think of Hannah who prayed for a child until God provides, some times we are called to pray for the same thing again and again and again.
But other times – we are called to pray as Christ did – praying three times that God would relieve us from what He is calling us to, praying as Paul did, three times, that God would remove the thorn in his flesh, and then trust that God’s grace is sufficient.
Perhaps knowing which approach is right in our situation is harder – but experience says, if we are to simply trust – peace will come after the third prayer – if we are supposed to stop we will have a surety that God is in control, a knowing that whatever it is God has called us to, that His grace is sufficient.
Whether we pray three times, or keep praying – let us learn to give our hearts wholly to God, let us learn to trust that His grace is sufficient, let us learn to pray with simplicity and truth, before the God who wants our heart, who wants to take it, to hold us close, and let us learn to have peace before him, even amidst the turmoil of the world.
We read the whole passion narrative this morning, up to the tearing open of the curtain in the temple, up to the death of Christ upon the cross. We know this isn’t the end of the story – we know that resurrection comes through days later – but we are reminded of something very important.
First, we often cheapen grace, we want it to come easy, but it came at a high cost – it came through Christ’s death. We see what seems to be the whole city crying out “Hosanna” that is “Save us!” as Christ enters into the city on the first Palm Sunday – but when the cost of that salvation meant giving up their worldly hopes, giving up comforts, giving up reputations, even Christ’s closest friends scattered.
Salvation means sorrow – salvation means sacrifice – salvation means trusting in Christ alone, not only in the good times, but in the hard times as well.
But here – in our suffering, even in our heartache – Christ invites us in to his suffering. Not that our suffering is part of our salvation – but that our suffering is part of our sanctification. It gives us the opportunity to throw every – single – ounce of our being upon Christ. It gives us an opportunity to shed all that we cling to for hope that isn’t of God, so that we can trust Him all the more.
Our heartache and sorrow is an opportunity to throw ourselves upon the savior who cried out before us. Our heartache and sorrow is an opportunity to remember Immanuel, that is God is with us.
I do not know where you are this morning – I cannot see your faces, though I long to, but I know where I was this past weekend, I know that I come before God every day broken and without a hope outside of Christ. I am sure that some know the feelings I described earlier, and I am sure for some the feelings are different, but I invite you all to join me in the garden, to join me in praying to God – and letting HIM minister to us.
Amidst the turmoil of this world, amidst this time of pestilence, amidst the confusion, amidst economic uncertainty – let us turn off our TVs, log out of social media, put away our phones and simply be quiet in the presence of our mighty God, simply sit before him and offer him everything in our heart, and let us find our strength, and joy in Him alone. For he has gone before us, he has suffered for us, he is for us, he is with us, and there is no power – not in heaven nor hell, on earth or beneath it that can separate us from Him and His love for us.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.